Cops: Detroit shooting suspect on bond shoots again

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit Police Chief James Craig is calling for a summit with Wayne County judges and Prosecutor Kym Worthy in the wake of a recent shooting case that he said shines light on a broken criminal justice system.

A Detroit man was accused last month of trying to kill a rival, granted bond, got out of jail after paying $10,000, and allegedly shot the victim again Thursday night before going into hiding. He remains at large.

“I’m angry, and I want to have a dialogue with judges and the prosecutor so we’re all on the same page,” Craig said. “We need to work more effectively in the criminal justice system to keep these violent suspects behind bars. There’s a dangerous man now walking the streets, when he should never have been let out in the first place.”

Craig’s ire was raised by the case of Steven Jackson, 21, and his half-brother, Robert Harris, 31. Each was charged with two counts of assault with intent to commit murder and felonious assault after an Aug. 9 incident in which they allegedly opened fire, in broad daylight, on a 25-year-old man with whom they had an ongoing feud.

Police say Jackson was driving on the city’s east side when he spotted the victim in a car with a woman. Harris, a passenger, rolled down the window and shot the victim’s car with an assault rifle, police said. The victim’s car crashed, and Jackson and Harris assumed he was dead; he and his passenger, however, survived.

During Jackson’s Aug. 23 arraignment, visiting Magistrate William J. Szlinis set bond at $100,000, allowing Jackson to get out of jail by posting 10 percent, or $10,000. No prosecutor was present to object to the bond because the hearing was held on a Saturday in Romulus’ 34th District Court. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s spokeswoman, Maria Miller, said because of budget constraints, there isn’t enough manpower to send prosecutors to weekend arraignments.

“Prosecutor Worthy has stressed for years how important it is to have enough prosecutors to attend bond hearings and probation violations in cases where violent crimes are charged,” Miller said.

Attempts to reach Szlinis for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

On Aug. 25, Jackson posted bail through You Walk Bail Bonds in Detroit and was released from the Wayne County Jail.

Days later, Jackson’s mother, Latarah Walker, allegedly ran into the victim in a gas station and threatened to have him shot if he testified in court against her son. The man told police of the alleged threat, and the woman was arrested and charged with witness intimidation.

On Thursday, the night before Walker’s preliminary examination in the intimidation case, Jackson allegedly went to the victim’s east side house and shot him several times in the chest. The man is hospitalized in serious condition, and police are still looking for Jackson.

Craig said Jackson should have never been let out of jail after posting just $10,000.

“It’s problematic when a person like that gets bonded out for that amount, and goes back and predictably commits another violent crime against the exact same victim,” he said. “This is an opportunity for us to take an exhaustive look at the system, and see how effective it’s working in Detroit. In this case, the system failed this victim.”

There are no hard rules dictating how judges should set bond, University of Michigan law professor David A. Moran said.

“Bond is a complicated determination by a judge,” Moran said. “For minor cases, like drunken driving, judges will use a formula. But for bigger cases, there are no formulas. It depends on a number of factors. Without knowing all the facts of the case, $100,000 bond for a violent offense isn’t a shockingly low bond.”

Still, other Wayne County defendants have gotten higher bonds for similar or lesser charges. For instance, the bond of a 16-year-old boy who was charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm in the May beating of motorist Steve Utash was set at $400,000. And last year, Maurice Abraham’s bond was set at $1 million after he was charged with the same crime as Jackson — assault with intent to commit murder — in a gas station holdup.

“What happens when we catch (Jackson) again?” Craig said. “Is another judge just going to turn around and give him another low bond? We really need to have a meeting of criminal justice people so we can talk about the problems in the system.”

Both Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Michael Talbot, who is also special judicial administrator for the 36th District Court, and Worthy said Friday they were willing to sit down with Craig to address his concerns.

But Moran said the meeting isn’t a good idea.

“The criminal justice system is an adversary system,” he said. “Any system in which police and prosecutors are all fully happy with what judges do isn’t a system I want to live under. Judges are supposed to call them like they see them, not keep police and prosecutors happy. They’re not supposed to be collaborating.”

Craig disagreed. “We’re all in this together,” he said. “The way things are being done is not acceptable. This is not how we serve our community. We can only arrest these violent suspects; if they‘re allowed back on the streets, how is that a good thing?”

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